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‘Nobody Follows It’: U.N. Nuclear Watchdog Says Obama’s 2015 Iran Deal ‘Means Nothing’

Rafael Grossi, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said on Monday that former President Barack Obama’s 2015 nuclear deal with Iran “exists only on paper and means nothing.”

“Nobody applies it, nobody follows it. There have been attempts to revive it here in Vienna. But unfortunately, although they were relatively close to success, they failed for reasons unknown to me, because I was not involved in the process,” Grossi complained to Russia’s Izvestia newspaper.

The 2015 nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was never submitted to Congress for ratification. Critics of the deal accused Iran of cheating from the start. Israeli intelligence obtained documents in 2018 that showed the Iranian government secretly violated its non-proliferation commitments under the agreement.

Former President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the JCPOA in May 2018. Trump said it was clear that “we cannot prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb under the decaying and rotten structure of the current agreement.”

Iran was nominally still bound to its agreement with the European powers that signed the JCPOA, but Tehran has largely treated the agreement like a dead letter since Trump withdrew, and arguably for quite some time before that.

Even before the U.S. withdrawal, Iran complained that it did not receive the vast economic benefits it envisioned when international sanctions were lifted under the agreement. After U.S. sanctions snapped back into place, the regime in Tehran blamed all of its economic woes on the United States, and no concessions by the Europeans were good enough to bring the deal back to life.

Grossi told Izvestia that he finds it frustrating to deal with Iran, which has blocked IAEA inspectors from investigating key sites and refused to hand over documents demanded by the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

“I continue to tell my Iranian colleagues that we must provide the agency with at least minimal access to help return to the second version of the JCPOA or any other agreement,” Grossi said.

“There are problems, I’ll be honest with you. We do cooperate with Iran. I don’t deny this. This is important for inspection. My Iranian colleagues often say that Iran is the most inspected country in the world. Well, it is, and for good reason. But this is not enough,” he said.

Grossi has spent the last few years trying to hold the unraveling nuclear deal together, frequently criticizing Iran’s intransigence but always stopping short of statements or actions that might anger Iran enough to make it stop cooperating with his agency entirely.

The European signatories of the JCPOA ran out of patience with Tehran before the IAEA director did. In early June, the IAEA board voted 20-2 to censure Iran for blocking nuclear inspectors, with Russia and China the only votes against. Grossi opposed taking such dramatic action, and so did the Biden administration, which still daydreams about resurrecting the moribund JCPOA.

On Saturday, France, Germany, and the UK issued a joint statement condemning Iran for “hollowing out the JCPOA” by enriching uranium to near-weapons-grade at a breakneck pace. Iran defiantly announced plans to enrich even more uranium after the IAEA censured it.

The joint statement noted Iran is “operating dozens of additional advanced centrifuges at the Natanz enrichment site,” and has announced it will install thousands more centrifuges at both its Fordow and Natanz sites.

“This decision is a further escalation of Iran’s nuclear programme, which carries significant proliferation risks,” the statement said, pointing out that Iran is not only violating the JCPOA, but also the 1970 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), which Iran has signed.

Grossi told Izvestia he hopes that Russia might use its influence to “keep the Iranian program within a predictable and peaceful framework,” by which he seemingly meant Russia pressuring Iran into cooperating with the IAEA. 

Grossi admitted that for the time being, Iran is not keeping his agency abreast of its plans for spinning up more advanced uranium centrifuges.

“We know that Iran is considering a number of activities which require construction of new facilities, installing new cascades, among other things,” he said. “They should be informing us of those changes.”

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